Jim Hendry has deservedly received a lot of flack for his off season moves this year. He rolled the dice on Bradley -- so far coming up a loser, although time may tell a different story -- he took a risk on Fontenot -- also a loser move -- and he dealt for Kevin Gregg after declaring that Wood had no home in Chicago.
The loss of Wood and Mark DeRosa in particular upset a lot of Cub fans. How many times have we heard or read this year that "da Cubs would be doin' betta with Da-Rosa!" How many of us lamented that Kerry Wood -- a certifiable "big game pitcher" -- was to be replaced by Kevin Gregg and his hipster-doofus glasses?
While the fan in me still misses Wood considerably, at this point Hendry's decisions look less decisively poor and more ambiguously positive than they did back in May.
Wood presently has 14 saves and 4 blown, while posting an ERA of 4.93 through 34.2 innings of work. Not exactly elite. Compare that with Gregg, who has 21 saves to 3 blown with an ERA of 3.42 in 47.1 innings of work.
DeRosa, meanwhile, is still hitting the crap out of the ball -- he's batting .266 with 18 homeruns so far this year. Although, since coming to St. Louis, DeRo is hitting a Fontenesque .244.
Speaking of Fontenot, at this point he has me longing for the days of Mickey Morandini. Font is batting .229 and should never, ever face another left handed pitcher in a game that matters.
As for Milton Bradley, he is doing better but not great. He's certainly not earning his contract this season. He was chosen by the Cubs over guys like Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, and Raul Ibanez, all of whom are either lacking power, defense, or a legitimate "I'm doing it clean" argument.
Nevertheless, the Cubs are now leading the NL Central. They'd undoubtably be better off with a guy like DeRosa on the team, but Gregg at least is looking very good. And Bradley? Meh. Let's talk about him again in a year.
Does anybody else remember the gut-blow we took back in December when we found out that not only was Kerry Wood not coming back to close but the player tapped to assume the role was the glasses-wearing Marlins dork Kevin Gregg?
Like so many new Cubs, Gregg's debut in Chicago was less-than-thrilling. He began the year looking mediocre-at-best after barely winning the closer's gig from Carlos Marmol in the Spring. Even still, a lot of us assumed he wouldn't keep the job all year long and his early struggles confirmed our worst concerns.
Then, he started to turn it around. In fact he's been pretty reliable since April 20th, assuming you ignore his outing against the Astros in which he surrendered 4 earned without making a single out. If baseball allowed us to take away that one, terrible performance, Gregg would have an ERA of 1.99. Even with that awful outing, his ERA is a middle-of-the-road 3.57.
So here's the question: should Kevin Gregg lose the gig after last night's wretched blown save? Meh. I guess it depends on your expectations. Somebody in the ShoutBox said that a closer should flat out not blow more than three saves a year or else he's not doing his job. With all due respect to that Goat Reader, that's a pretty crazy expectation to have on any closer.
Looking back the past 5 years, there have been 77 closers to save 30 games or more. Of those 77, only 15 blew 3 or less saves. Also let's take a look at the past 5 World Champions, the '04 Red Sox, '05 White Sox, '06 Cardinals, '07 Red Sox, and '08 Phillies. Of that bunch, only the '07 Red Sox and '08 Phillies had closers you could call "elite" based on the 3 blown saves or less condition. And the '06 Cardinals had 10 blown with Jason Ishringhausen.
I think we'd agree that there are different levels of competency when it comes to closing, as well as the fact that teams who win the Series do not always -- or even often, necessarily -- have an elite 9th inning pitcher.
But there are the elite closers who dominate -- the Hoffmans (91% success rate since 2002), Riveras (91%), and Wagners (88%) of the world.* Then there are the reliable, competent closers who will regularly get the save, post ERAs below 4 but above 3, and occupy the rosters of most teams in baseball. There are also the LaTroys, who just plain suck, but thankfully they don't get to close for too long before losing their gigs.
(*Note: if the average "great" closer manages about a 90% success rate, assuming he gets 45 chances a year he's still going to blow 4 or 5 games. The "3 or less" rule is simply unrealistic to the nth degree)
Randy Myers -- a pretty good closer himself back in the day -- used to say that a good closer will save 80% or more of all opportunities. Kevin Gregg this year is at about 78%. In other words, he's competent, he'll probably save 30 this year, and then in the playoffs he'll leave us at the edge of the couch, white-knuckled and nervous. But the Cubs could upgrade at other places that would help them more, so I don't expect the closer's position to be a target of improvement in July this year -- and if it happens, it should happen from within.
Carrie Muskat called this one an "excruciating loss" in her recap. Not sure there are really too many other ways to describe it.
Usually the Cubs win when they score four runs, but a pinch hit home run off the Cub closer put the Tigers into the win column in Tuesday night's contest.
Intrepid reader Dizzle pointed out that Gregg's last 9.2 innings had happened without his giving up a run. Beyond that, Kevin Gregg has quietly been having a pretty fantastic June. He's struck out eight and walked just one opposing batter in 10.2 innings of work, posting a 1.69 ERA.
Was Kevin Gregg, in a way, on the wrong side of the "due" list coming into tonight's game? Unfortunately, I'd have to say, kinda.
Does that make him completely useless from here on out? Hardly. Before tonight's disaster, Gregg had an ERA below 3.00 since May 1. Furthermore, he's turning out to be a considerable improvement over the guy the Cubs passed on this offseason.
I hear ya, guys--losing this way sucks. Unfortunately, it's a pretty likely thing to have happen once or twice over the course of a season. Let's hope Gregg can get back on track and be ready to go the next time we need a save in a close game.
There was no moment more sickening last night than when the Braves spoiled a Ted Lilly's good performance by tying the game in the 7th. Scratch that -- it got real sickening when it went to extra innings for the second straight night.
It's not that I lack faith in the Cubs' ability to win extra inning games. No, my problem is more that the Cubs bullpen is built of balling wire and bubble gum right now and any game in which they are turned to excessively is a game that will be tough for the team to win.
Fortunately, the Cubs pulled out all the stops pitching-wise, turning to the Marmol-Guzman tandem for 3 straight innings. Marmol in particular has been spotty, especially with his control, but he was balls-to-the-walls last night* and Guzman was his usual untouchable self. I'm pretty sure that it was Goat Reader HarryCaray who proclaimed in Spring that Guzman would be important to the '09 team and so far he's been spot-on in that regard.
(*Disclaimer: I'm not actually sure what "balls-to-the-walls" means)
The only problem is that after the Cubs managed to snatch the lead in the 11th, thanks to a rare Hoffpauir-Lee tandem, Piniella turned to Kevin "Better Dead Than" Gregg for the save. Surprisingly it was mission accomplished. But I'll reiterate what I said yesterday evening... the Cubs need to re-assess their bullpen and Gregg needs a new role. And if even Marmol can't handle the job, then at least the Cubs would know it and could add "closer" to their trade deadline wish list.
Incidentally, I wanted to note that Derrek Lee is now batting .263. Hardly the stuff of legend but not bad for a washed up double play machine. All told every Cub regular except Three Finger got at least one hit last night. The Cubs need to better capitalize on their success at getting on and play for the series win tonight.
UPDATE FROM Yarbage: So, for the second straight night I made my way to the "Ted", only to see an extra inning game. I could really use a blowout tonight, but I doubt we'll get it with the pitching match up.
There were a few things that caught my eye last night from the stands. First off, the Cubs should really hold a bunting practice all day today. I'm not a fan of giving up outs, but if Lou's going to keep sending up people to bunt, they have to get it down. My buddy, Scott Lange, couldn't even watch when Ryan Theriot tried to lay down a bunt late in the game.
I never saw the replay, but it was nice to see Geovanny Soto throw out somebody. At this point, we'll take anything.
Finally, I hope the Braves get some bad luck tonight after cutting Tom Glavine to avoid a roster bonus. The players and fans had no clue that it had happened. We found out from somebody that got to the game about the second inning. I understand that Tommy Hanson is going to be a star, but you just don't treat players that way. If you were going to cut him, then why have him go through all that rehab?
If the rain holds off, I will add something for the game later.
I didn't say it, because I didn't think you could apologize a jinx away. As it turns out, the Cubs didn't need my help in giving this one away.
You know what? We damn well SHOULD win every one of those games. We have guys in the 'pen capable of getting six outs when working with that sort of margin.
We got EVERYTHING we could ask for from this team: seven strong innings from our young starter Randy Wells (he's ACES, isn't he?); home runs from two of our veterans; five runs total from our occasionally inept, consistently inconsistent offense.
We got EVERYTHING--except six outs from a 'pen given a five-run lead.
Whether Marmol stays in the set-up role and Gregg keeps closing, or Lou changes the order in which they're brought out, the fact is, we're going to need BOTH Marmol AND Gregg to pitch a heckuvalot better in the near future if this team's gonna start winning consistently at any point.
Unfortunately for tonight, the result looks like another variation on a common theme from the 2009 season thus far.
Just a few weeks ago, the offense was the problem. So of course it makes sense that, just as the bats start to look like they're getting hot (aside from Soto, who had his bat taken out of his hands at a pivotal point in the game), this happens.
Oh yeah, and "Don't Wake Daddy" (so named because he'll probably pull something if you startle him) strained his calf running out a grounder.
I guess we should try to end on a positive note. Umm... Randy Wells is awesome? Seriously, Wells just keeps rolling. He deserves a ton of credit for giving this team a chance to win each night he's started. I look forward to his next start. Let's get him an effing win sometime soon, huh?
Well that was fun, huh?
Ted Lilly put up a pretty decent line last night. Usually, 3 runs in 7 innings will do it. But the offense had trouble scoring one run, let alone 3 or 4, against the Dominating Force of Joel Piniero!!!
Piniero had 14 strikeouts in his last 45.1 innings pitched this season, but somehow managed to get five Ks last night. I guess he was just on or something. Maybe on something?
Despite the loss, there were a couple of notable performances from a pair of Cubs that had been in a bit of a rut lately.
Kevin Gregg handled the top of the Cardinals order with relative ease in the top of the eighth, allowing just one hit (a double to Pujols). 12 of his 17 pitches were strikes.
Also, Mike Fontenot's hitless streak is over. He had a two-out double in the top of the fifth inning.
Unfortunately, it was one of only three Cub hits. That's alright, they were just savin' 'em up for tonight's game against Carp. Let's even this one up, huh?
Brian Moehler (0-2, 8.44 ERA) vs. Rich Harden (4-1, 4.54 ERA)
I spent a good hour writing a post this morning that I promptly lost when trying to add the graphic to the left. So, this is going to be a lot shorter than I wanted this morning.
There are a few things that caught me eye yesterday about Cecil Cooper, who might be the next great Dusty Baker. After the Astros scored four runs to the tie the game, they had runners on first and second with no outs. What does Cecil do? Well, he lets Jason Michaels swing away and the Cubs get out of it without further damage.
Then, in the bottom of the 9th after Bobby Scales moved to second on the sac-bunt, Cecil decides to pitch to Alfonso Soriano instead of pitching to Ryan Theriot. I know Theriot has five home runs this month, but you have to put the double play in order. Anyway, lets move on.
Milton Bradley makes his return today after his one-game suspension. Milton was starting to hit when he had to sit this week, and he hasn't played since Wednesday. Hopefully he isn't rusty from the lack of playing time.
Derrek Lee - this might be a little early, but he was 1-for-3 with a walk yesterday, including putting the Cubs pu 1-0. He looked better yesterday, but he really doesn't deserve to be in the hot section. It has been a long year for Derrek, so I'm happy to see him do anything positive.
Micah Hoffpauir - Well, if Derrek Lee winds up on the DL at some point, I'm pretty sure the Hoff will do better than Phil Nevin a few years ago. He had a huge two-run home run yesterady that gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead at the time.
Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol - they both looked really strong yesterday, the rest of the bullpen not so much.
Kevin Gregg and Aaron Heilman - That brings us to the 9th inning. These two were pretty bad yesterday, but Lou said that Gregg would be out there again today if the there was a save situation.
Mike Fontenot - I have a feeling that Mike Fontenot might be losing some playing time. He was 0-for-4 yesterday, and hasn't shown any signs of breaking out.
The Cubs really should pick up their sixth straight win today, but crazy things happen in baseball. The Cubs are all along in second place, and could be in first place tomorrow if they win and the Brewers lose.
As Len and Bob always say, it's never easy.
The Cubs came through when they needed to in this one. After five solid innings from Astros ace Roy Oswalt, the Cubs' two first basemen both came through in the bottom of the 6th. Derrek Lee brought home Alfonso Soriano with a flip single out to shallow left, and Micah Hoffpauir followed with a "useful shot" into the bleachers to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Geo Soto's RBI in the 8th may have looked unnecessary at the time, but boy was it ever.
After an absolutely dumbfounding performance from the Cubs so-called closer in the top of the 9th (we'll get to that later), the Cubs ended up needing a 5th run in the bottom of the inning to pull out the win--and they got it. Everyone's new favorite Cub Bobby Scales!!! drew a walk on a 3-2 fastball, moved to second on Aaron Miles' sacrifice, and shouted, "Win! Win! Win!" all the way home on a clutch single from Alfonso Soriano. All in all, a great performance from the Cub offense in this game.
Let's do the bad news first: Kevin Gregg was not good today. After giving up back-to-back homers to Lance "Fat Elvis" Berkman and Carlos "Also Fat" Lee, Gregg couldn't get any of the next three batters out, and left with the bases loaded. Aaron Heilman came on in "relief," and promptly "relieved" the Cubs of their lead on a two-run single on the first pitch to Pudge Rodriguez.
But hey, there's good news! Randy Wells put up six more scoreless innings today. That's 15.1 scoreless in his career with the Cubs, the first Cub since 1993 to start off on such a good streak. He's been hittable, but has avoided any major damage by allowing just one extra base hit this season (a double to Jason Kendall in his last start, against Milwaukee). In addition, Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol continue to dominate; today they combined for two innings with four strikeouts and zero base-runners.
Should we begin demanding changes in the way Lou trots out his relievers to close games? To be honest, I'm not sure. Before today, Kevin Gregg had pitched 6.2 innings in May, allowing just one run while racking up seven strikeouts. Regardless, it looks like we've got an offense we can trust, even without two of our best hitters in Ramirez and Bradley. Hey, a win's a win, right?
Woo, read this blog title again. Sounds pretty heavy. For about a week now I've been promising a closer look at the Cubs bullpen, particularly at Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. They were supposed to be the iron support that held up the pen. Instead they've been as shaky and inconsistent as every other mope in the bullpen and they are leaving Cub fans with sick stomachs and lowered expectations. But how bad are they? Through a month of the season, Gregg and Marmol have been flat-out mediocre. On the surface they have combined to make 34 appearances, pitching 30.1 innings of work, surrendering 25 hits, walking 24, and striking out 36. Their combined ERA is 4.15. 49 runners in 30 innings is not exactly stunning. But looking at the specifics, we see the following. Kevin "Salvation" Gregg Since April 26th, Gregg has thrown 8.1 innings, surrendering 7 hits, 5 walks, and 2 earned runs - that's an ERA of 2.16, and he's been 5 for 5 in save attempts. Obviously the bad remains the walks. I'm not sure if it's a pitcher problem or a strategy problem. Maybe Gregg needs to challenge the hitters more than he has. Then again, 3 of his 5 walks since April 26th came in one outing. Carlos "The Solution" Marmol Don't Blow It That's a tall order.
April 26th is an important date for Gregg. Before that date, he'd pitched 7 innings, surrendering 8 hits, 5 walks, and 5 earned runs - that's an ERA of 6.43. He was also 1 for 2 in save attempts.
For Marmol, his season begins and ends on April 29th. That was the date in which he got beaten like a dog that just pissed all over Mike Tyson's bearskin rug. Before April 29th, Marmol had pitched 7.2 innings, allowing 6 hits, 3 walks, and 2 earned. His ERA was 2.35. Since April 30th, Marmol has pitched 7 innings, allowing 4 hits, 7 walks, and 1 earned run. That's an ERA of 1.29. Again, the walks are troubling - especially considering Marmol's history of losing control. The Cubs can't pretend April 29th never nappened, but any stat-head knows that to give a fair account you remove the best and worst number and average out the rest. On average, Marmol has been fine.
Obviously these are just 2 guys in the bullpen. Their success in May has been great, but the Cubs are still trotting out Neal Cotts and Dave Patton every couple of days and Aaron Heilman has alternated between the mundane and the miraculous. But while neither Gregg nor Marmol have been without their problems, we should feel comfortable when the Cubs enter the 8th with a lead. The trick now is to have two reliable options for the 7th and three reliable options for the 6th.
Woo, read this blog title again. Sounds pretty heavy.
For about a week now I've been promising a closer look at the Cubs bullpen, particularly at Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. They were supposed to be the iron support that held up the pen. Instead they've been as shaky and inconsistent as every other mope in the bullpen and they are leaving Cub fans with sick stomachs and lowered expectations. But how bad are they?
Through a month of the season, Gregg and Marmol have been flat-out mediocre. On the surface they have combined to make 34 appearances, pitching 30.1 innings of work, surrendering 25 hits, walking 24, and striking out 36. Their combined ERA is 4.15. 49 runners in 30 innings is not exactly stunning.
But looking at the specifics, we see the following.
Kevin "Salvation" Gregg
Since April 26th, Gregg has thrown 8.1 innings, surrendering 7 hits, 5 walks, and 2 earned runs - that's an ERA of 2.16, and he's been 5 for 5 in save attempts. Obviously the bad remains the walks. I'm not sure if it's a pitcher problem or a strategy problem. Maybe Gregg needs to challenge the hitters more than he has. Then again, 3 of his 5 walks since April 26th came in one outing.
Carlos "The Solution" Marmol
Don't Blow It
That's a tall order.
Or: The Relax Guy(s) Thread
You may have heard that Kevin Gregg blew a save last night. You may also be aware that Lou Piniella manages a bullpen the way a clown would juggle chainsaws. But what's clear after the first 4 games of the season is that Cub fans remain just as over-reactionary as ever. Some fun quotes from yesterday's fiasco:
Gator: That Ending was a joke. Im not impressed with Gregg and am less impressed now.
letsgotheriot: I really don't know if I'll be comfortable with Gregg
uke: TRADE GREGG
At least lgt isn't giving up on Gregg, he's just voicing the same concern we all feel whenever a Cub tanks. But I just have to ask ... can we please withold judgment for a while? Please?
Carlos Zambrano had a great opening day. Does that mean he'll have a fantastic '09? No.
Rich Harden went 6 strong and struck out 10. Does that mean he's healthy enough to pitch reliably? No!
Derrek Lee has struggled to get into a groove. Does that mean he should be benched for Micah Hoffpauir? Hell no!
Lou Piniella has played bullpen roulette during every close game of this early season. Does that mean he can't manage a bullpen? ...well...
Anyway, the point is that we are way, way too anxious for results. Even I - who predicted last week that Gregg will eventually lose the gig to Marmol - think that it's way too early. In a long season, the best closer will blow close games. The best hitter will have long, painful slumps. The best manager will make WTF! decisions.
Perhaps it's just inflated a little because it's the beginning of the season and we're putting everybody under an intense microscope. But I say again. Relax, guy(s).